ME2 Drilling Leaks 575 Gal of Bentonite Mud into Delco Creek

Sand bags placed to contain a leak of bentonite clay into Chester Creek. Credit: Middletown Coalition for Community Safety

When pipeline companies lay a pipeline–they dig a trench. But what happens when you come to a road, or a river, or a creek or another structure where you can’t just dig a trench? For those places, you drill horizontally underground–kind of like what shale drillers do. When drilling horizontally underground, the drill bit gets hot and needs to be cooled, so drilling “mud” is piped in to cool the bit as it chews away. Drilling mud for pipelines is, essentially, bentonite–a nontoxic clay. Bentonite is used to make shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste and kitty litter. You’ve probably already used a product today that contains bentonite. Sometimes when drilling, the bentonite mud leaks out–traveling along cracks in the rock. It’s called an “inadvertent return” in the business. We call it a leak. Fortunately, bentonite can leak all day long and it doesn’t pollute anything. However, if enough of it leaks into a river, stream, or wetland (i.e. swamp), it can smother aquatic life. Poor little critters can’t breathe. And that’s not good. Such leaks are what have slowed down progress on building the Rover Pipeline in Ohio–where one such incident leaked 2 million gallons of drilling mud (see Rover Pipeline Accident Spills ~2M Gal. Drilling Mud in OH Swamp). A leak of 575 gallons of drilling mud into a creek is hardly worth mentioning, but it recently happened when Sunoco Logistics was drilling horizontally under the Chester Creek in Delaware County (near Philadelphia) for the Mariner East 2 pipeline project. According to the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection, not a single fish was killed in the leak…

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